Only 10 years ago the NYC club scene thrived, but these days, besides sidestepping burly bouncers and bridge-and- tunnelers, New Yorkers must deal with the cabaret law, a nonsensical ordinance dating back to the 1920s that has crippled nightlife. A quick explanation: You can’t dance in New York unless a club has a license. And in order to get one, club owners must meet a maze of requirements—seemingly for no purpose other than to squelch dance events.
Navigating the velvet rope is also a tricky business, and it gets more complicated if you’re under 21, but, fortunately for college-age clubbers, there are more options in the Big Apple than, say, Iowa.
How to Find Out
Head to a vinyl record store that sells the kind of music you’re interested in and snag flyers. For New York–-style garage and hard house, stop by Eightball Records (105 East 9th Street, 473-6343); for drum’n’bass, Breakbeat Science (335 East 9th Street, 995-2592); for techno and IDM (intelligent dance music), Temple Records (29 Avenue B, 475-7552) and Sonic Groove (41 Carmine Street, 675-5284). For deep house, check Dance Trax (91 East 3rd Street, 260-8729); for trance, House of Trance (122 St. Marks Place, 533-6700).
If you’re under 21, be on the lookout for poster-size flyers advertising massives, many of which take place in cities a train ride away.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble by picking up the bible of NYC clubbing—Flyer, a free monthly magazine available at any record store worth its salt. Budding gay collegiate clubbers should get HX and Time Out magazines (though girls-who-like-girls parties are scarce, and especially so if you are under 21). Also check out clubnyc.com—which has a rave calendar, club listings, and tips on what’s 18+ and what’s not.
Where to Go
One all-ages venue that features exceptional music every night of the week (except Mondays) is Halcyon (227 Smith Street, 718-260-WAXY), a café/record store/furniture store in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill—only 15 minutes from Downtown to techno heaven via the F train. Local DJs and occasional big-name guests like DJ Lee of Metalheadz and Mixmaster Morris drop by. Wednesday’s party features tech house, Fridays are drum’n’bass extravaganzas, and Sundays showcase anything-goes experimental nerd techno.
As far as superclubs go, Twilo (530 West 27th Street, 268-1600, twilo.com) Fridays is the place for 18+. It’s hands down the reigning king of NYC clubs, with a plethora of superstar DJs: Sasha and Digweed the last Friday of every month; the other trance superstar, German DJ Paul Van Dyk; the world’s hardest-working DJ, Carl Cox; and rotating guests.
The legendary Roxy (515 West 18th Street, 627-0404)—which has a better design, better vibes, a more tolerable crowd, and often, better music—regularly hosts 18+ rave-styled events, many of them put on by leading promoters Stuck on Earth (stuckonearth.com). Their drum’n’bass event Reeespect brings in top talent like Ed Rush and Matrix, as well as eclectic lineups like Slick Rick, Jumpin’ Jack Frost, and DJ Craze.
Relative newcomer Centro-Fly (45 West 21st Street, 627-7770, centro-fly.com) also hosts forward-thinking house music, with rotating residents like Derrick Carter, Roger and Junior Sanchez, and special guests like the Wicked crew, Layo and Bushwacka, and Mark Farina popping by.
I’m on the Guest List
Brace yourself: NYC clubbing is a costly habit. Big guns like Twilo charge more than $30 for a night out, and even smaller bars are at least $10. So get on the guest list. Twilo cuts you slack by allowing any Joe Schmo to phone in a request for the reduced house guest list on many Friday nights. Other clubs will drop the admission price by a few bucks if you have a flyer in hand and arrive before 11 p.m.
Still, the best way short of being the DJ (or being with the DJ) is through the media. Intern for a magazine, record label, or newspaper, or work for a promotions company— guest-list privileges are one of the few perks. Or fake it, find out who’s who—learn the names of club owners, party promoters, DJs, and publicists, and when you get to the door drop them one by one until the door person relents. If that fails, ask to speak to the manager, because most door folks figure that if you want the boss, you’re the real deal. Be polite and apologetic but firm, and never take no for an answer. But if it’s a bar with local DJs, fork it over—they need the money.
What to Wear
Of course, you’ll be going nowhere fast if you arrive at these venues dressed like a dog. Guest lists are never a sure thing—no matter how many pretty girls with big boobs you’ve got with you—so if you’re a guy, you better look swanky for joints like Centro-Fly. Dressing freaky is a better ticket to the front of the line (and sometimes the guest list) than wearing nonchalant jeans and a T-shirt. I once witnessed a guy get turned down from Life for the heinous crime of wearing a sweatshirt, even though he was with nine other people, all of whom were admitted. Clubs are cruel—girls with cleavage mysteriously move up to the front of the line faster than those dressed chastely, but if you go to smaller bars like Drinkland (339 East 10th Street, 228-2435), Baktun (418 West 14th Street, 206-1590), or the Cooler (416 West 14th Street, 229-0785), you’re likely to get turned down if you look like you’re ready for a night out at Webster Hall. These clubs play better music for lower cover costs, and often host 18+ nights (though the cabaret law is currently a thorn in their sides).
Names to Watch
In clubland, the DJ is God, so know your creator. But you don’t need to rely on superstars when locals can provide slamming beats.
Techno’s currently on the DL in NYC, but these jocks from the Temple Records crew throw down Detroit and minimal techno: Silver, Khan, Plexus, DJ Dirty, Rebecca Swift, and Don Rainwater. Sonic Groove boasts three of New York’s biggest techno DJs—Frankie Bones, Heather Heart, and Adam X. And watch for the return of techno parties courtesy of the Foundation Crew. D’n’b favorites include del Mar, Reid Speed, Empress, Roy Dank and Blueline, Quartz and 4 Real, Doomer, Dara, DB, and Swingsett. On the trance tip: Sandra Collins, India Drop, and Liam Kennedy. Local house heroes Chez Music’s Neil Aline, Onionz, Joeski, Dominique, and Sleepyface run ‘tings, and even though they are superstars now, Danny Tenaglia, Joe Clausell, and François K still rate. Keep your eyes peeled for John Selway (who plays electro, techno, house, and whatever new genre is about to be invented); Thomas of the Wicked Crew (a/k/a the Mammal), whose weird sets get you thinking as well as dancing; and Redboy, a DJ at Drinkland who splits his time between downtempo and d’n’b.
Places to Avoid
You should avoid these places altogether unless you want to be wedged in between schmucks and schmoes: Webster Hall, Tunnel (except for Sunday’s hip-hop night), Exit, and Life. Also avoid venues that offer cheap covers or free drinks for girls, or only admit guys accompanied by girls. They have a name for these types of places: meat markets.